Sermon For Sunday, September 30, 2012

Philippians 3: 12-21

“Reaching Out Together: Living Examples”

Today is the third sermon in a seven-week series on 40 Days Of Community examining how community can be inspired and nurtured within our congregation and beyond into the neighborhood.

Franklin Circle Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

Cleveland, Ohio ~

Rev. Allen V. Harris, Pastor & Preacher

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It’s now long been a jingle of the past (which is to those of us who can sing the little ditty from memory really date ourselves) but it’s a good jumping off point for the topic at hand: *“Reach out, reach out and touch someone.”  A central theme of this 40 Days Of Community is that of extending ourselves, taking the best of what we experience here in our personal spiritual lives and in the life of this congregation and extending it out into the larger neighborhood around us, whether that be in this immediate neighborhood of Ohio City/the Near West Side, or the Greater Cleveland area, or in specific places such as the place you work, shop, exercise, or go to school.  Reaching out is necessary to being in community.

*In your small groups this week you are going to be looking at one of the stories of Jesus feeding the multitude, in particular Mark’s version of it.  You will be talking about some very practical things that are necessary in reaching out: *assessing the need, taking inventory of your gifts and resources, and getting organized.  But you will also look at some less tangible but nonetheless critical things that must be considered when reaching out: *measuring your need and capacity to give, preparing your heart, and being available.  Both kinds of preparation are equally necessary, but I encourage you to spend the most time this week in your personal devotions and in your small groups looking at the last three.  I think they are what make a person of faith reaching out different from a social service provider or non-profit organization reaching out.  No judgment at all, simply an awareness of the place from which our reaching out comes.

And this is where our scripture for today becomes helpful.  A little more background on the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Philippians.  Paul had founded the church in Philippi earlier in his missionary journeys and is writing to them from prison to first and foremost thank them for their generosity, for they had offered prayers for his release and gifts to help support him during imprisonment and trial.  *But he also writes fairly strong words of disappointment and warning about some other missionaries are preaching from uncharitable motives a gospel of righteousness.  Calling them “dogs,” “evil workers,” and “enemies of the cross of Christ,” Paul challenges their legalistic and law-based righteousness.  Paul understands the gospel of Jesus Christ is one that may show evidence in one’s actions, but is never based on those actions.  *God’s grace and salvation comes through faith alone.  Not on what one says, knows, believes, nor gives, and not even on what one accomplishes!

But I want to go back and look at a particular image Paul invokes when he is talking about standing up to those who would make faith legalistic, law-driven, and coerced rather than inviting, grace-filled, and liberating.  *Paul writes, “forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on towards the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.”

*I just love this image of the race.  Now, most of you know that I have never been an athlete.  My brother, Pat, did that and did that well.  Some of my earliest and fondest memories are of going to swim meets with my mother and brother and watching him compete.

*The New Testament, and Paul in particular, is pretty fond of this “racy” language!  It is used often in his letters:

“Let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us.” ~ Hebrews 12:1

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith..” ~ 2 Timothy 4:7

“Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it. ” ~ 1 Corinthians 9:24

So as I began to imagine why Paul would use such imagery?  Well, I think he uses images of striving, running, and racing because it calls us to think of motivations.  Why do we persevere in this life?  Why do we do the things we do that take effort, energy, and even stamina?  Why do we reach out beyond ourselves when it would be so very much easier to just take care of our own, hunker down, stay to ourselves?

Do we reach out out of a sense of duty, obligation, or compulsion?  That is to say, are we pushed to do the good we do for others in the world?  Or do we feel invited, called, even urged to reach out to others?  *What motivates you to extend yourself into your family, your neighborhood, your community when there is expressed or known?  Of course, the verse that comes to mind is *2 Corinthians 9:7  “Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”  But I have to say, most of the time I hear that, I hear a heavy handed “ought.”  Rarely is it the kind of invitation that makes my heart sing or my soul dance.  But I do think that Paul is trying to help us move to that point of graceful, faith-led giving.

Let’s be honest.  If you are at all like me, reaching out, extending myself for the good of others, and good old fashioned giving is more like *Dr. Doolittle’s Push-Me/Pull-You creature.  Or, to update the image a bit, its more like CatDog.  Sometimes I give out of obligation, but I know I really want to give.  Sometimes I reach out doing something that I love to do, but by the time I’m finished, it feels like work.  We are complex creatures, and I trust Paul, God, and Jesus would all say, “That’s okay… We understand completely.”

All week as I pondered the push me/pull me nature of reaching out, my mind’s eye kept wandering back to a movie I saw earlier this year.  *The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (For The Elderly And Beautiful). It is chock full of some of my favorite British movie stars, including Dames Judy Denchand Maggie Smith, and Tom Wilkinson.  *In it, a group of British retirees decide to “outsource” their retirement to less expensive and seemingly exotic India. Enticed by advertisements for the newly restored Marigold Hotel, they arrive to find the *palace a shell of its former self.  But as their stay goes on, most of the retirees discover new life, not only for the hotel, but for themselves most especially.  That is some, but not all.

*The movie is a delightful and brilliant exploration of what motivates us to extend ourselves into the world, in this case to the exotic land of urban India.  Some of them are heading out of necessity: something in their past compels them to go.  Others are heading into the unknown out of enticement of what might be: the allure of something that might happen.  In all of the retirees, as well as the young man who runs the hotel, they discover what it means to be in community with one another, where the joy of reaching out to others to help, to advise, to celebrate outweighs any heavy pressures of the past and any titillating temptations of the future.

*By reaching out to others in need in community, they begin to understand like never before who they are and what they really are capable of doing.  Their hearts are opened like never before to their own emotions and truths and the possibilities of a world rich with beauty and wisdom.  And they become available, perhaps for the first time, to themselves, to their neighbors, and to the greater good.

As you meet in small groups this week, or in your own devotional time, I want you to ask yourself *as you read the story of Jesus feeding the crowds: “Did Jesus give out of compulsion, following the dictates of the law, or did Jesus give out of a sense of possibility, invited by the joy of helping others?  Or, just perhaps, was Jesus’ motivation a mixture of both, and more?

*I also want us to think this week about others, particularly those in the community beyond this church, who reach out in order to help others.  Think about those who are civil servants, political representatives, leaders in non-profit organizations, helping professions such as nurses, teachers, or librarians.  Think about our safety personnel (police, firefighters, and EMS workers).  *Ponder this those in the community who reach out in service, think about religious leaders, whether clergy or lay, community organizers, students doing community service, or really any individual who reach out because they care.

*Ask yourselves and each other, “Who are examples to you of people who reach out, not because of obligation, but because they feel called to give of themselves in community?”

So, we continue on this journey of 40 Days Of Community.  *This week, in a snapshot:

+ Devotions: “We’re Commissioned To Reach Out Together”


+ Small Groups 2: “Reaching Out Together” – Mark 6:36-44 (loaves & fishes),


+ Memory Verse: 1 Colossians 4:5 “Conduct yourselves wisely towards outsiders, making the most of the time.”

And let us all realize that whether we give out of compulsion, or joyfully, or some richly human mixture of all of the above, let us reach out to others anyway.